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Artbreeder - Using AI created Character and Background Content in your Animations

A selection of AI generated images from Artbreeder.
A selection of User/AI generated images from Artbreeder.
If you're looking for an endless supply of 2D character and background images for your animations then Artbreeder, an online Artificial Intelligence (AI) that generates image mash-ups you can tweak as much as you like, could be the ultimate content library.

What is Artbreeder?

Artbreeder is free to use though there are various paid plans, that give you additional features, such as higher resolution download images or more settings to play with. All images created on the site are Public Domain (CC0 License) and can be used in commercial projects.

Using Artbreeder's online app you can generate head shot portraits, full body characters, landscapes, and other scenes simply by choosing two or more existing images to mash together then, using a series of sliders, to select which traits from each image you wish to lean toward in the final image.

Photo Comparison - Top is my original uploaded photo. Bottom is Artbreeder's aproximation.
Photo Comparison - Top
is my original uploaded
photo. Bottom is
Artbreeder's aproximation.
You can choose from existing source images on the site or, in some categories, upload your own. 

I found it interesting to upload my own photo headshot because Artbreeder does not use the literal image uploaded. Instead it recreates an approximation of the image, using its AI, ready for use in the app. My recreated image looked slightly more youthful.

I'm not going to go into a detailed tutorial on how to use Artbreeder. It takes a little experimentation to work it out but, once you do, it can be fun just seeing what kind of images you can generate. It seems like there's a slider adjustment for almost everything, ranging from art style, to age range and more.

Turning Artbreeder images into an animation

I thought I'd experiment to see if the images I produced could be brought into Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 4 and turned into an animation.

My plan was to create a simple animation showcasing the background and a character.

Below are my two original downloaded images created with Artbreeder. I was trying to generate a kind of steampunk fantasy character with a background to match. Following that is my final demonstration animation and the run down for how I put it all together.


My steampunk character and background as created in Artbreeder.
My steampunk character and background as created in Artbreeder.

Note, if you're using Artbreeder, and see an image you kind of like but aren't sure, click and save it anyway. There's no real undo feature, and restoring a single setting back to what it was is no guarantee you'll get the previous images back.

Preparing the images

Obviously my Artbreeder images were not ready to be loaded straight into Cartoon Animator. I needed to rig my character and break up my background into layers so I could create a parallax effect.

To prepare my images I used Krita, the free, open source image editor.

The background I split into three layers, the foreground rocks, the mid ground city, and the background sky. I did do some work to fill in the sky behind where the city was in the image but not too much since the parallax scrolling I wanted to create would be very subtle and the scale of the city would mostly hide the gap in the sky.

The female character I broke up into the various body part layers. I then exported a G3, front facing dummy character from CA4 into Krita in order to get the right character template. Next I copied all my body parts into the relevant layer folders in the template.

I saved a separate image of the characters head to use for the morph based head (which is the fastest character head to rig in CA4).

With regard to the character I didn't create a full set of hand sprites or create bone hands, since this is just a demo animation. I did create an extra set of flipped hand sprites so the character could fold her arms without her hands looking wrong.

Bringing the images into CA4

My final scene set up on Cartoon Animator's stage as viewed in 3D mode.
My final scene set up on Cartoon Animator's
stage as viewed in 3D mode.
My background image I saved as a photoshop file (.psd) and simply dragged it across onto CA4's stage area, importing it as a scene. CA4 retains all the layer information so, once the image was on the stage, I just moved each layer on the Z axis in order to create the parallax, depth I was going for.

I did add two 'fog' props to my scene from Reallusion's Weather Maker pack just to give the scene a little more atmospheric perspective (If you don't have this pack in your CA4 library I highly recommend it as an essential purchase).

My female character was also saved as a .psd file. I simply dragged the same dummy character I used to get the template in Krita onto the stage, went into the CA4 character composer, and imported my girl template.

All that remained to do then was create the morph based head using the head composer tools.

Turning it all into an Animation

The background set required very little animation as the parallax effect is created by the movement of the camera - which I keyframed to go from a wide shot to a mid shot of the girl.

I did animate a slight horizontal drift to the fog but you barely notice it unless you really watch closely once the camera stops moving.

The girl's walk toward character utilizes CA4's new Import 3D Motion feature for G3 characters. All of the front facing walks I had in my content library for 2D characters looked too cartoony and awkward (I can't imagine any of them look good, even with cartoony characters). So I imported a 3D motion of a female walking along a catwalk, and it was such a vast improvement.

CA4's Import 3D motion window.
CA4's Import 3D motion window.

When the girl stops, moves from side to side, and crosses her arms, that is part of an existing 'Idle Stand' motion from Reallusion's G3, 2D motions, included when you buy the software.

The girl's face and head animation is a little erratic and random because I just couldn't be bothered keyframing all her expressions. Instead I fired up the Motion 2D Live plug-in for faces and motion captured my own face. I'll admit it's not my best work but it kind of does the job for a thirty second demo.

Finally I added some cinematic music from YouTube's creator library, ambient desert wind sounds, and cinematic black bar letterboxing.

In Conclusion - Is Artbreeder any good as an image library for animation?

My demonstration animation certainly has its fair share of things that could be improved. Particularly my morph based head which could be so much better with a lot more time and effort (as well as my face capture acting). I mention this just to say those things are not down to Artbreeder's usefulness.

If you're willing to upgrade to Artbreeder's subscription plans you'll have an endless supply of high resolution images (the free plan is limited to about five high resolution downloads). Even on the free plan there are many more features than I've covered here.

Most of the portrait and character images are front facing which could be an issue as there's no way to create alternate views of a character you've saved. Or even the same character with different outfits (though you could solve this by rigging your character's head onto different outfits).

Most of the backgrounds are landscapes or abstract at this stage. Great for creating other worldly scenes but you'll need to look elsewhere for interiors. The interiors in the 'General' category didn't seem all that useful for creating actual interior background scenes.

I don't think I'd use Artbreeder as a source of graphics for a commercial project due to its limitations but there's a lot of fun to be had tinkering around with it on the side.

I could see myself definitely using it to generate backgrounds for certain projects - particularly anything that needed other-worldly landscapes or city skylines.

Furry Blue Ice Wolf created with Artbreeder.
Furry Blue Ice Wolf
created with Artbreeder.

It's definitely fun experimenting with the range and types of characters you can generate. Everything from photo realistic humans to furries and anime.

While you can certainly use the characters in your projects I'm not so sure how flexible (or time saving) they might be if you needed multiple angles of your character rigs. Certainly there's a lot of fun to be had generating a bunch of characters and animating them in smaller one shot style projects.

Overall Artbreeder is a useful tool that, if nothing else, could be a great starting inspiration point for your animated projects, and may be a good way to generate some of the final art too.


Note: I am not affiliated with Artbreeder and this post is my honest impressions of the site based on my experience creating the demo animation.


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